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Greta Thunberg speaks during a climate strike in Germany

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joins a large-scale climate strike on September 24, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Hundreds of Thousands Take to Streets Worldwide for 'Uproot the System' Climate Strikes

"The climate crisis has not disappeared," said Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. "It's the opposite—it's even more urgent now than it was before."

Jake Johnson

Young people by the hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the globe on Friday to deliver a resounding message to world leaders: The climate crisis is getting worse, and only radical action will be enough to avert catastrophe and secure a just, sustainable future for all.

"As emissions and inequalities increase, we rise up and demand climate justice."

From Pakistan to Italy to Germany to the Philippines, the worldwide "Uproot the System" actions marked the largest climate demonstrations since the coronavirus pandemic forced campaigners to take their protests online last year. Climate activists in developing countries—where access to vaccines is limited due to artificial supply constraints and hoarding by rich nations—were still forced to limit the size of their demonstrations Friday as a public health precaution.

"Last time it was digital and nobody was paying attention to us," Yusuf Baluch, a 17-year-old activist from the Pakistani province of Balochistan, told Reuters. "In the global north, people are getting vaccinated so they might be out in huge quantities. But in the global south, we are still limited."

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose solitary sit-down strike outside her home country's parliament in 2018 helped spark the global Fridays for Future movement, said that "it has been a very strange year and a half with this pandemic."

"But of course, the climate crisis has not disappeared. It's the opposite—it's even more urgent now than it was before," said Thunberg, who on Friday joined a large demonstration in Berlin, which was hammered by massive, climate-linked floods in July.

Watch Thunberg's full speech in front of the Reichstag building:

Organizers said that more than 1400 climate strikes are set to take place in at least 70 countries Friday, with hundreds of thousands expected to attend demonstrations in Germany alone.

"As emissions and inequalities increase, we rise up and demand climate justice," said Berlin-based climate activist Luisa Neubauer.

The latest youth-led global action kicked off just weeks ahead of the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which many civil society organizations want to be postponed over fears that inequities in coronavirus vaccine access could prevent delegates from developing nations—those most vulnerable to the climate crisis—from attending.

Equalizing global vaccine distribution is one of the six demands that climate campaigners are aiming to put before world leaders during Friday's mass demonstrations. The full list is as follows:

  1. The Global North needs to cut emissions drastically by divesting from fossil fuels and ending its extraction, burning, and use. We need concrete plans and detailed annual carbon budgets with roadmaps and milestones to ensure we get to net-zero with justice and equity in the time needed to address climate change.
  2. The colonizers of the north have a climate debt to pay for their disproportionate amount of historic emissions and that starts with the increase of climate finance to implement anti-racist climate reparations, the cancellation of debts especially for damage caused by extreme weather events, and providing adaptation funds that serve the communities.
  3. Work towards a genuinely global recovery from Covid-19 by ensuring equitable vaccine distribution worldwide and suspending intellectual property restrictions on Covid-19 technologies. This is an essential step towards a global, green, and just recovery.
  4. Recognize the tangibility of the climate crisis as a risk to human safety and secure the rights of climate refugees in international law.
  5. Recognize the invaluable impact of biodiversity on indigenous communities' lives and culture, and commit to make ecocide an international punishable crime.
  6. Stop the violence and criminalization against indigenous peoples, small farmers, small fisherfolk, and other environmental and land defenders. Support the work they do. Respect and listen to our defenders. 

The worldwide demonstrations came a week after the United Nations warned that even if the 191 parties to the Paris Agreement meet their current climate targets, global greenhouse gas emissions will still rise 16% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. The U.N. also estimated that the planet is on track for 2.7°C of warming by the end of the century, a level of heating that experts say would be cataclysmic—particularly for developing nations.

At the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week, the leaders of vulnerable countries pushed wealthy nations—the largest contributors to the climate emergency—to stop shirking their responsibilities to confront the planetary crisis.

"We simply have no higher ground to cede," Marshall Islands President David Kabua said Wednesday. "The world simply cannot delay climate ambition any further."

Participants in Friday's global action pointedly amplified that message. Valentina Ruas, a Brazilian activist, told The Guardian that "the global north should be developing climate policies that have at their core climate justice and accountability to the most affected people and areas."

"Instead," she added, "they continue to exploit vulnerable communities and recklessly extract fossil fuel, while bragging about their insignificant emission reduction plans."

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